Comic book showcase: The creators of Thanos.

So I saw Avengers: Infinity War over the weekend.

Image result for avengers infinity war

The only thing I will say about it is that it’s one heck of a turning point for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and an epic way to cap off this giant experiment that Marvel and Disney have been running for the past ten years.

Image result for marvel ten years

Other than that, I’m not saying anything else about the movie.  The internet is filled with enough spoilers as it is.

No, today I want to do something different and talk about the behind the scenes history of big bad guy of the film, the villain who has been teased for the past five years: Thanos.

Image result for thanos

The character is pretty simple.  He’s in love with the Marvel Universe’s personification of death and he attempts to prove his love by killing off half of the universe using the Infinity Gauntlet.

Image result for thanos and death

He’s one of Marvel’s most powerful bad guys and a big part of the strange and weird cosmic stories that Marvel produced in the 70’s and 80’s.

Image result for marvel cosmic

Sadly, Marvel’s cosmic stories were never a big seller for the company when you compare them to their mega hits like Spider Man and the X-Men.  Stories about characters like Ronan the Accuser and Adam Strange weren’t very popular, even though they’ve been getting more attention nowadays with the smash success of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.

Image result for guardians of the galaxy

This is really sad since these are some of the weirdest, most bizarre, and high concept storytelling the company has ever produced, and most of this insanity was created by the other legend working at Marvel, and a long time favorite of this blog series: Jack Kirby.

Image result for jack kirby

You know him, you love him, he helped create nearly every single superhero on the big screen right now, and he loved him some crazy far out aliens and space stuff.

Image result for jack kirby

You can see a lot of his

design aesthetic on display in Thor: Ragnarok.

Image result for jack kirby thor ragnarok

While Marvel had Kirby to thank for some of the most fascinating and bizarre aspects of their superhero universe, he didn’t create Thanos.

Thanos was created by writer Mike Friedrich,

Image result for mike friedrich

and writer/artist Jim Starlin.

Image result for jim starlin

Both of these artists have had long and storied careers at both Marvel and DC and came into their own in the 70’s and 80’s, reinventing what comics could do and giving us some of the greatest characters and stories today.

Image result for 1970's marvel

Starlin in particular is the prince of the Marvel cosmic universe, and his resume is only dwarfed by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby themselves.

He helped create Thanos,

Image result for thanos

Drax the Destroyer,

Image result for drax the destroyer

Gamora,

Image result for gamora

and he reinvented other heroes which will probably be making appearances in future Marvel movies like Adam Warlock,

Image result for adam warlock

and Captain Marvel (who has a long and interesting story that I’m not going to talk about here, but long story short he was created in the 70’s and was reinvented as a lady in the present day).

Image result for captain marvel 1970s

 

 

Yes people like Kirby, Friedrich, and Starlin were some of the most prominent and successful names in comics in the 70’s and 80’s, and were responsible for many of our childhood favorites.

And they all hated Marvel with a burning passion.

Long story short, the mega publisher decided to continue the long and sordid history of comic book publishers screwing authors and artists over.  Kirby followed in the footsteps of hundreds of his Golden Age co workers and was famously screwed out of most of the credit and royalties of his work, watching as his co creator Stan Lee would go on to become the biggest name in comics.

Image result for stan lee and jack kirby

Starlin in particular hates Marvel with the burning passion of a neutron star.

 

So they decided to quit Marvel and move on to greener pastures.  Kirby would move to DC Comics and create the characters of New Genesis and Apokalips, the latter being home to one of DC’s most powerful villains: Darkseid.

Image result for jack kirby darkseid and new genesis

Starlin and Friedrich decided to create their own comic, an anthology series known as Star Reach.

Star Reach is an interesting bit of comic book history.  It may seem like the comic book scene is dominated by Marvel and DC, and for the most part that’s true, but there has been a long running independent comic book scene that really took off in the 1970’s with the work of underground super stars like Harvey Pekar,

Image result for harvey pekar

Art Spiegelman,

Image result for art spiegelman

and Robert Crumb.

Image result for robert crumb

The independent “comix” scene has its own separate and unique history and you could write books about it,  but for the sake of time and simplicity all you need to know is that it was characterized by its own unique art styles, adult themes, and subject matter that was absolutely NOT for children.

Star Reach was a comic anthology that collected short science fiction and fantasy stories and shared and helped bridge the gap between mainstream comics and the independent comix of the time.

Image result for star reach and heavy metal

The first issue was published in 1974 and fans described the book as a “ground level publication”, sharing the distinction and aesthetic with a similar European publication we know today as Heavy Metal.

Image result for heavy metal comic

Perhaps it was the lurid material, or the crossover appeal bridging the gap between mainstream comic books and the underground comix scene, or maybe it was the famous names attached to the book.  Either way, Star Reach was a hit and had a pretty solid five year run.

Image result for starlin star reach

Also, it helped set off a boom of independent comic books published in the late 70’s and early 80’s which helped shape the pop culture landscape we know and love today.

You know what?  I think this might be the perfect segue into a new age for this blog.  Sure, the 40’s were a fantastic time for comic books and produced some of comics’ most endearing characters and crazy stories, but the late 70’s and 80’s had some pretty insane characters and were a pretty fascinating time for the comic industry as well.

All good things must evolve, and I think now might be the time to change it up a bit.

This’ll be fun.

Advertisements

Golden Age Showcase: Sun Girl

It’s October folks!

The days are getting shorter, the leaves are changing, and the weather is getting cooler.

Normally, most forms of entertainment start churning out the horror and scary stuff around this time, and in the near future we won’t be so different.  However, I thought it might be nice to give the sun one last hurrah and talk about a bright and colorful superhero from days of yore.

She’s also a lady so here’s another chance to showcase a hero that didn’t get a whole lot of attention back then.

This is Sun Girl.

Image result for sun girl timely comics

Origin and Career

Sun Girl made her first appearance in her self titled series Sun Girl #1 in August of 1948.

Image result for sun girl timely comics

While the writer of the comic is uncredited, the art was done by a man named Ken Bald.

Image result for ken bald comics

Ken Bald was actually one of the more prolific and successful artists of the Golden Age and did a lot of work as a staff artist at Timely Comics where he drew many of Timely’s most popular heroes.  He is also known for his comic strip work, such as a strip based off of the 1970’s tv show Dark Shadows.

Image result for ken bald dark shadows

A couple things of note.  First, hooray we actually managed to tie in some horror into an October post!  Second, if the name Dark Shadows isn’t familiar to younger readers all you need to know is that they tried making a modern movie based off it starring Johnny Depp.

Image result for johnny depp dark shadows

It wasn’t well received.

Anyway, in an age where comic book super heroines were surprisingly independent and capable Sun Girl…was not.  Her civilian name was Mary Mitchell and she started life as the secretary and love interest of the original Human Torch.  When the Human Torch’s original sidekick Toro takes a leave of absence she insisted that she becomes Torch’s sidekick despite having no superpowers.  The Torch is not pleased and responds with stereotypical 1940’s male talk.

But…she knows judo so that fixes everything I guess?  Also, she had a “sun beam” gun that shot bright flashes of light.  Honestly, there were better superheroines out there at this time.

Her lack of powers and crazy weapons didn’t stop her from having something of a career.  After her three issue solo series she appeared in the Human Torch series for three issues,

Image result for sun girl and the human torch

and she guest starred in Captain America and Submariner books.

Image result for sun girl captain america

Thankfully, during her short career she wasn’t entirely useless.  She would often bring a more human and compassionate side to her superhero work and was able to make an impact on the Human Torch’s career.  Perhaps her biggest achievement was helping the Torch prove a wrongfully accused man innocent.

Image result for sun girl timely comics

So what happened?

Toro came back from his leave of absence and Mary went back to being the Human Torch’s secretary.  Then the comic book industry went kaput and Timely Comics re branded to eventually become Marvel Comics and the Human Torch became a character who didn’t need a secretary.

Image result for the fantastic four 1960's

However, Sun Girl didn’t just fade away into obscurity and become a tiny little footnote in comic book history.  She had enough fans and people who remembered her to bring her into the modern era.  The first appearance of the new and improved Sun Girl was in Superior Spider Man Team Up #1 in June of 2013.

Image result for sun girl superior spider man

Right off the bat the new Sun Girl has a more independent and interesting origin.  She’s an engineer named Selah Burke who developed a suit that gives her the ability to fly and two light blasting pistols.  Also, she’s the daughter of Edward Lanksey, an out of work college professor who became a super villain.

Image result for spiderman light master

Her next appearance would be as part of the Marvel Comics team called the New Warriors in 2014.

Image result for marvel comics new warriors

Sun Girl is an interesting comic book super heroine, but not for the reasons you might expect.  She didn’t have any extraordinary powers, she didn’t have a very long career, and she didn’t have the impact on popular culture that many of her other female colleagues had.  With that being said, she was smart, courageous, always willing to do the right thing, and has one of the most comprehensive and fulfilling post Golden Age careers of any female superhero.

Image result for sun girl timely comics

Golden Age Showcase: A selection of comics about 9/11

So it’s September 11th today.

Image result for 9/11

They say everyone who is old enough to remember 9/11 remembers exactly where they were when they heard the news.  I don’t know if this is true for everyone, but I remember being in middle school and being hurried into an auditorium by the entire staff and not really understanding what was going on until much later.

September 11th was an important event in American history and for American comics as well.  For starters, it was the deadliest attack on American soil by a foreign threat since Pearl Harbor.

Image result for pearl harbor attack

We all know that Pearl Harbor was the principal event that brought the United States into World War 2, but it was also the event that guided the direction of American comics towards superheroes,

Image result for golden age superheroes

and war comics.

Image result for golden age war comics

If we take a step back this makes a lot of sense.  Comic book publishers saw that the American people needed escapist power fantasies where all their problems could be solved by walking metaphors that could punch their problems in the face and this trend would continue as America became a world wide military superpower that became increasingly involved in world affairs.

Image result for american military complex

Just like Pearl Harbor, 9/11 was an event that rekindled our interest in superheroes.

Image result for modern superheroes

and it even revitalized an interest in modern military narratives, although these tended to find their way into video games and other forms of media.

Image result for modern warfare

Once again, it was a way for American culture to make sense of our place in the world and give a brightly colored metaphor to our problems.  The only differences were that our heroes fought in Afghanistan instead of Europe and a lot of creators had to deal with a more complex and morally grey fallout.

Image result for captain america civil war comic

In many ways post 9/11 America paralleled post Pearl Harbor America and comic books were there to document and process it.

I know it happened a long time ago, that it brings up painful memories that a lot of us would like to forget, and that many of us would like to keep the political and social fallout that the event caused out of our comic books, but stuff like this is important and needs to be talked about.

So today I’m going to give a brief overview of three comics that dealt with the events of 9/11 and a little bit about the background and influences of each one.

Amazing Spiderman #36

Amazing Spider-Man Vol 2 36

This comic hit the stores on December of 2001, a mere two months after the attacks.  As a result, it is the closest out of the three comics to the actual attacks, during a time when it was still terrifyingly fresh in our minds and we were all still standing together against a threat that we really didn’t understand.

Out of all the superheroes in the modern pop culture cannon, Spiderman is probably the one who is most connected to New York, and one of the most hard hit by the events of 9/11.

Image result for spiderman

While New York has always had a special place in comic books as the birthplace of the American superhero industry, Spider Man has had a special relationship with the city.  He’s the city’s defender, the protector of the ordinary people living there, and I’m willing to bet that he’s incredibly grateful for all of the tall skyscrapers around that allow him to actually use his webs effectively.

Image result for spiderman web swinging

The attacks would even have an effect on the Sam Raimi Spiderman movie, forcing Sony to remove a shot of the Twin Towers from a trailer,

Image result for spiderman twin towers trailer

and inspiring Sam Raimi to include a “this is New York!  If you mess with him you mess with all of us” scene into the movie.

The comic itself was written by the legendary writer J. Michael Straczynski and was drawn by Marvel stalwart John Romita Sr.  It isn’t part of a larger story, it’s just Spiderman wandering the wreckage of Ground Zero and trying to process it all.

Image result for amazing spider man 36

Now, I have seen some criticism over the years about this comic, and I can kind of see why.  There’s a page where some of the most violent and destructive villains in the Marvel Universe are just standing in the wreckage, doing nothing.
Image result for amazing spider man 36 villains standing in ground zero

Hell, this wasn’t even the first time that Marvel destroyed the Twin Towers in their version of New York.  Juggernaut did it in an issue of X-Force in 1991 and laughed about it.

Image result for juggernaut destroyed twin towers

but this is not the kind of comic if you ask me this comic deserves our attention and respect as a way for a company that is so engrained into the culture of New York to come to terms with an event that shook the city and the country to its core.

Image result for amazing spider man 36

Image result for amazing spider man 36

In the Shadow of No Towers

Image result for in the shadow of no towers

In the Shadow of No Towers was published in 2004 and was written by indie comics legend Art Spiegelman, the author of the groundbreaking graphic novel Maus.

Image result for art spiegelman and maus

Mr. Spiegelman is a native New Yorker and was there during the attacks.  He was a contributor to the New Yorker magazine at the time and is responsible for the cover of the magazine published on September 24th 2001.

Image result for art spiegelman new yorker 9/11

He’s also a big fan and advocate of comics and takes a lot of inspiration from a lot of the early comic book artists, and it shows in his work.  The book itself is much more personal than the Spiderman comic, but at the same time it has something more to say about the event and its impact.

On one hand it’s about the author himself and where he was during the attacks.  His daughter was attending school near the Twin Towers on that day and the author is not afraid to talk about the fear and terror of actually being up close and personal to an event like that was.

Image result for art spiegelman in the shadow of no towers

On the other hand, this book was published in 2004 and while we had come to grips with the attack itself, we were neck deep in the consequences that the attack wrought on American culture and politics. Specifically we were at the beginning of what would become a long, drawn out military occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Image result for iraq war 2004

Image result for afghan war 2004

Spiegelman saw what was going on, how the attacks were being used to justify spending billions of dollars and killing thousands of American troops (along with Lord knows how many Iraqi and Afghani citizens), and he was not happy with what he saw.

Image result for art spiegelman in the shadow of no towers

This book uses old school comic characters and techniques to talk about 9/11 and its aftermath and it is really worth checking out.

Ex Machina

Image result for ex machina comic

This comic came out the same time as In the Shadow of No Towers but instead of being a one off graphic novel, it was a 50 issue comic series that lasted six years and was published by DC Comics.

The series was created and written by Brian K. Vaughn,

10.12.12BrianKVaughanByLuigiNovi1.jpg

who has been doing a lot of great comic book work and is most well known for creating the indie mega hit Saga.

Image result for saga comic

Now, Vaughn is not a native New Yorker but he did go to New York University and got his start there and, according to the author himself, he created Ex Machina as a rant against the political leadership of the time.

Image result for ex machina comic

The comic presents an alternate history of New York and America.  It’s a future where there is a single superhero called “The Great Machine” and he manages to stop one of the planes from crashing into one of the towers.  In the aftermath he is elected to become mayor of New York City and the comic deals with his term in office.

Image result for ex machina saving the twin towers

The comic is a political drama and out of the three titles we’ve talked about it is probably the most detached from the actual events of 9/11.  While it actually changes the events of that day, it uses the superhero story to tell a gripping and meaningful story that shines a light on American politics and how our country’s leaders used the Twin Towers to guide the American public towards the future we are living in now.  The comic is brilliant and it is definitely worth your time.

So there you have it, three different comics, by three different types of comic professionals, talking about the same event through different viewpoints and motivations.  And while it is important to acknowledge the fallout and changes to our culture and way of life, it is important to never forget what happened and how we can ensure it will never happen again.

Image result for 9/11 memorial

 

Golden Age Showcase: Spider Widow

So I saw Spiderman: Homecoming yesterday.

Image result for spiderman homecoming

It was good, I liked it, and it’s good to know that Spiderman is back in the loving arms of the company that spawned him.

You can make the case that Spiderman is the closest thing Marvel Comics has to a mascot, or at the very least he’s Marvel’s most successful solo hero.

Image result for spiderman

And what’s not to like about him?  He’s got a great gimmick, he’s got a great backstory, and he’s one of the best creations to come out of the mind of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

Image result for stan lee and steve ditko

But here’s the thing, great ideas like this don’t just come from nothing, and there were spider themed superheroes published in the 1940’s.  One of these heroes was a Quality Comics character named Spider Widow.

Image result for quality comics spider widow

Origin and Career

Spider Widow first appeared in Quality Comics’ Feature Comics #57 in June of 1942.

Image result for feature comics #57

She was created by comic book artist Frank Borth.

Image result for frank borth comics

While he did do some work for a Catholic magazine called Treasure Chest and did occasional work for Cracked (the magazine not the website), Spider Widow was his most popular creation.

As for her bio, her civilian identity was Dianne Grayton, rich socialite and lady about town.

Image result for quality comics spider widow

How did she get her powers?  Not mentioned.  Why did she decide to fight crime?  The comic didn’t seem to care.  What was her power?  She dressed up like an old hag and had the ability to control black widow spiders,

Image result for quality comics spider widow

swarms of them.

Comic Book Cover For Feature Comics #58

You sure this is a superhero comic?  Because I’m getting more of a horror vibe from this.

Her enemies weren’t that special.  She fought the traditional assortment of stereotypical racist caricatures of Axis saboteurs.  What made her pretty unique was what Qualiy did with her.  First, they paired her with a superhero named the Raven, who made his first appearance in her title.

The story was simple.  Axis spies kidnapped her because she was meddling in their affairs a bit too much and the Raven swooped in and saved her.

Comic Book Cover For Feature Comics #60

The day was saved, the two shared a thank you kiss, but sadly it was dark so they couldn’t see each other’s faces.

Comic Book Cover For Feature Comics #60

The Raven was later revealed to be a man named Tony Grey, and the two wound up forming a romantic relationship on top of their crime fighting.

One of their more notable adventures was when they teamed up to fight Spider Man, a Nazi saboteur who controlled a giant robotic spider.

Image result for quality comics spider widow

Nazis controlling giant spiders?  NOPE! SOUND THE ALARMS!  PREPARE THE TERMS OF SURRENDER!

Now, two comic book heroes coming together in a comic isn’t really that special, but bringing in another hero and crossing over in two books?  That was pretty unique for the time.

I don’t know why they chose her, but Quality Comics had The Raven crossover with another Quality character named The Phantom Lady in Police Comics #20 in 1943.

Comic Book Cover For Police Comics #20

She wound up rescuing the Raven while he was investigating a crime ring and he brought her from Police Comics to Feature Comics for a couple of issues.

The two ladies did not get along very well.

Comic Book Cover For Feature Comics #69

Plus, I’m willing to bet the writers were venting some pent up frustrations in the book through some impressively subtle fourth wall breaks.

Comic Book Cover For Feature Comics #69

Look at the second to last panel and tell me you aren’t a bit impressed.

The two even went as far as to fight a duel for the Raven’s affections,

Comic Book Cover For Police Comics #21

but it turned out to be a set up by some criminals and they quickly patched it over.  The day was saved and then everyone went back to their own titles.

So what happened?

Aside from her crossover with the Phantom Lady, Spider Widow wasn’t really that popular or noteworthy.  She lasted for a couple more issues and then disappeared around 1943.

It’s kind of a shame because she really did have a great gimmick and power set.  Sure she was pretty boring as a person, and having her fight with another lady over a man probably won’t score her a whole lot of points with modern audiences, but she is in the public domain and could be a great horror protagonist.

Image result for spider widow quality comics

While I don’t want to mistake correlation for causation, you can kind of see something resembling Spider Widow’s legacy in Marvel’s more modern characters.

For example. what’s the name of Marvel’s favorite super spy femme fatale?  Black Widow.

Image result for black widow marvel

Sure, she doesn’t have the power to control spiders but I like to think the creatives at Marvel were remembering Spider Widow when they came up with her.

Also, there was a villain in the Spider Man books named Spider Queen who had the power to control insects,

Image result for spider queen marvel

(yes I know spiders aren’t insects),

Sure, she’s not a wealthy heiress and controlling insects isn’t exactly a rare power, but it seems that Marvel has a pretty pronounced fascination with spiders and I like to think that Spider Widow was a start.

Image result for spider widow quality comics

Golden Age Showcase: Spider Queen

This blog is brought to you by the Cambrian Comics Patreon page.  If you are feeling generous please click the link above and feel free to donate and help us deliver even more awesome content.

You know what we need to talk about more on this blog?  Female superheroes.

The way I see it, if we’re going to talk about female superheroes we should go all the way with it.  We need something daring, something obscure, something so original and new that it has stood the test of time and has never shared any background or history with any other established character.

Image result for golden age spider queen

Huh, that’s a woman swinging from a thread, in a strange costume, and calling herself “Spider Queen”.

This sounds familiar, but I just can’t quite place it.

Origin and career

Spider Queen was published by Fox Features Syndicate, the same company that gave us the original Blue Beetle.

Image result for fox features comics

The Spider Queen first appeared as a back up story in a comic book called The Eagle in September of 1941.

Comic Book Cover For The Eagle #2

The story names a person called Elsa Lesau as the creator.  It would be fantastic if this character was actually created by a woman, but sadly I can’t find any pictures of her.  Also, Elsa may have been a pen name for a writer/artist duo named Louis and Artuo Cazeneuve who were two brothers from Argentina who did a lot of work for Fox and would go on to successful careers as comic book artists.

And this is where I would have a photo of them but alas, Google is a cruel mistress.

It’s worth mentioning that the Golden Age of comics wasn’t very good with things like creators’ rights and giving credit to the people who deserved it so it’s all very up in the air.

Anyway, the Spider Queen was a mild mannered assistant named Sharon Kane.  She worked as an assistant for her husband, a chemist who designed weapons until he was killed by “enemies of the country”.

Comic Book Cover For The Eagle #2

While sifting through the stuff in the lab, Sharon uncovers a formula for a super strong, super sticky thread like substance similar to spider silk.

Comic Book Cover For The Eagle #2

Once she realizes that with great power comes great responsibility, Sharon takes the formula, crafts her own wrist mounted spray guns that she can use to swing across buildings, and dons a costume to become a “sworn enemy to all wrongdoers”.

Isn’t it amazing how “scientist with a fascination with bugs” is such a common trope, especially in comics?  It’s not like anyone’s turned this idea into anything successful.

Image result for spider man

Anyway, over the course of her career The Spider Queen simply contented herself with punching out goons and other small time criminals.  There may have been a budding romance with a detective named Mike O’Bell, but that didn’t pan out because…

So what happened?

She only lasted three issues, and since she was only a backup character she didn’t get a chance to develop as a hero or as a person.

Comic Book Cover For The Eagle #3

The character would have been doomed to comic book purgatory if it wasn’t for the folks at Marvel resurrecting her in a 1993 mini series starring a superhero team known as the Invaders.

Image result for 1993 marvel comics invaders battle axis

In a rather interesting twist, Spider Queen was actually a villain.  In fact she wasn’t just a villain but a Nazi as well.

 Image result for spider queen nazi

To be fair, they give her some justification by explaining that she’s only with the Nazis because they’re fighting the same group of people that killed her husband, but still…nazis.

Plus they gave her costume the 90’s comic book treatment.

Image result for spider queen nazi

Eh, personally I’m on the fence about it.

So that’s the history of the original Spider Queen, but you’re probably wondering if Spider Queen has any thing to do with Marvel’s flagship hero, Spider man.  After all, I have been dropping subtle hints about it throughout the article.

The answer is yes, Spider Queen and Spiderman did meet.  That being said, it got a bit…weird.

Image result for spider man disassembled comic

Long story short, this new Spider Queen was a woman named Adriana Soria who was a failed S.H.I.E.L.D experiment in 1945.

Image result for spider man spider queen

She has super strength, a sonic scream, and the ability to control people with an “insect gene” which allows her to turn people into spider monsters.  One of her victims is Peter Parker.

We’ll ignore the “spiders are not insects” thing and focus on the fact that Peter actually becomes pregnant while in his spider form, dies, and is reborn as a new Spider Man with organic web shooters instead of mechanical ones.

Image result for spider man spider queen

Image result for spider man spider queen

ew.

This version of the Spider Queen would come back as a semi regular Spider Man villain in a couple more stories but other than the fact that this new villain was more of a body horror, all powerful lady spider that’s really all you need to know.

Image result for spider man spider queen death

The Spider Queen was an interesting super heroine.  Sure she didn’t have a very long career as a hero, and her time as a villain was both short and very weird, but I like to think she was a real trailblazer.  She was the first super hero to utilize web shooters as a gimmick and would have one of the most interesting transitional careers as a super villain.

Image result for spider queen golden age comic

Golden Age Comics: Chandu the Magician

If you’re like me you probably went to go see the new Marvel movie this weekend: Dr. Strange.

Image result for dr strange movie

If you haven’t seen it my spoiler free review is this: GO SEE IT NOW!!!

It’s trippy, mind warping, Benedict Cumberbatch is an awesome edition to the Marvel Universe, and it has some of the coolest fight scenes I’ve ever seen.

Image result for dr strange movie fights

Normally I would do a blog post about the history behind Dr. Strange but here’s the thing, the character really doesn’t belong to the Golden Age of Comics.

Dr. Strange was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, the creative team behind Marvel’s greatest hero: Spider Man.

Image result for amazing spider man first issue

Dr. Strange premiered in 1963 in the anthology series Strange Tales.  Since the character was a sorcerer and master of magic Ditko used the comic to create some of the coolest and most mind bending artwork ever seen.

Image result for dr. strange comic book art

Sadly, while the art was fantastic, Dr. Strange didn’t really catch on as a solo character in his own series like Iron Man or the Hulk.  While he was popular with college kids who were experimenting with Eastern mysticism and psychedelic stimulants like LSD, the character was more at home as a supporting hero who was useful to other heroes whenever they were confronted with magical threats.

Image result for dr. strange and spider man

Like I said before, Dr. Strange really doesn’t fit the bill for this blog.  However, while researching the character’s history I discovered that Stan Lee took a lot of influence for Dr. Strange from an old radio program called Chandu the Magician.

Image result for chandu the magician radio shows

After looking up Chandu on the internet I decided to write this week’s blog post on this instead.  Sure it’s a radio show turned into a movie series, but it’s got enough comic book elements in it to justify a place here.

Origin

Before there were comic books and comic book movies, there were radio shows and pulp novels.

Image result for old radio shows and pulp novels

Chandu the Magician premiered in 1931 on the Los Angeles station KLR.  The show featured a man named Frank Chandler who was played by radio actor Gayne Whitman

Image result for gayne whitman

Frank was an American who had traveled to India to learn the mystic arts from the yogis.  Such skills included astral projection, hypnosis, and escape artistry.

Image result for chandu the magician

After he had learned everything he could he was sent into the world to fight evil in all its forms with the new identity of Chandu the Magician.

He would have various adventures every week, broadcast in 15 minute adventures, and sponsored by companies such as White King Soap and Beech Nut Gum.  He had several love interests such as the Egyptian princess Nadji who was played by actress Veola Vonn.

Image result for veola vonn

The program was successful and lasted from 1932 to 1935, and was even revived in the late 1940’s.

On top of the radio show, they even made a movie about Chandu in 1932.

Image result

Chandu the Magician stared actor Edmund Lowe as the title character,

Image result for edmund lowe chandu

and horror movie icon and king of over the top epic performances, Bela Lugosi as the villain Roxor.  You probably know him better as Dracula.

Image result for bela lugosi dracula

The movie was 71 minutes of glorious 1930’s cheese filled with magic, sappy romance, and death rays.  If you don’t believe me please watch this clip of Bela giving the best damn evil villain monologue I have ever heard.

The movie was successful enough to spawn sequels and I can assume the studios loved Lugosi because they cast him as Chandu in the sequel.

Image result for chandu returns

So what happened?

Life and society moved on, leaving radio and old heroes like Chandu in the dust.

While I normally feel a pang of regret and nostalgic longing for the heroes that I write about in this blog I’m really not feeling a whole lot for this one.

Sure he was a cool magician and yes the adventures were creative and exotic, and we got one of the best Bela Lugosi performances I’ve ever seen out of it, but the character was definitely a product of his time.  There’s a pretty strong undercurrent of some of the more uncomfortable ideas that permeated American entertainment during the 1930’s.  Everything from blatant racism to casual sexism is on call here.  Granted, a lot of the early comics played with that as well, but I get the feeling that a lot of people won’t be lining up to see the Chandu reboot at the box office.

Still, it was a fun little story and it seemed to have enough of an effect on a young Stan Lee to create Doctor Strange, so it wasn’t all bad.

Golden Age Showcase: Atomic Man

The Golden Age of Comics gave us our first modern superheroes and established the idea of the modern day origin story as an important part of any superhero’s lore.  There were plenty of ways for someone to decide to become a superhero.  He/she could be naturally endowed with great power,

He/she could have suffered a great personal tragedy,

or a person could have gained powers from some sort of magical incantation/device or scientific experiment.

But one of the most popular ways for a superhero to gain powers was a little known plot device called radiation.

It should be noted that while radiation can kill you in real life, a lot of comic books saw the wonders of the real life Atomic Age and decided that this,

could give you superpowers.

The list of superheroes who gained their powers from some form of radiation is extensive and makes up some of comic’s greatest heroes.

Most of these characters were products of the Silver Age of Comics, a time period between 1956 and 1970 where comics became heavily influenced by science fiction and the brave new world that gave us the Space Race and Tang.

However, the heroes of the Silver Age were not the first superheroes to gain powers from strange radiation.  Comic book writers had known about atomic energy since the end of World War 2 and responded accordingly.

Today I present the first hero of the Atomic Age, a man known simply as…Atomic Man.

Origin and Career

Atomic Man first appeared in Headline Comics #16 in November 1945.

There are two things worth mentioning here.  First, while the Atomic Man doesn’t appear on the cover he is used in its advertising and second, this comic would have been published mere months after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War 2.

The character was created by comic strip artist Charles A. Voight,

who began work as a cartoonist in 1908 and was most famous for a strip called “Betty”.

Voight created the Atomic Man as a scientist named Dr. Adam Mann, a scientist who made it his life’s work to study this strange new nuclear science.

Sadly, Dr. Mann fell victim to a lab explosion while experimenting with uranium 235, the type of uranium which makes atom bombs go boom.   The explosion embedded radioactive shrapnel into his right hand.  However, instead of killing him the shrapnel gave him incredible powers including super strength, flight, the ability to manipulate minds (somehow), and energy blasts.

Naturally, Dr. Mann was somewhat terrified of his newfound power, not just because he had the ability to do great damage to the people he cared about, but because of the damage it could cause if it fell into the wrong hands.  As a result the doctor would wear a lead lined glove on his right hand while in his civilian identity and take it off whenever he needed to call upon his powers.

It should also be noted that his costume simply appeared once he took off the glove.

So what happened?

Atomic Man would appear in five more anthology issues and had a pretty good run for a Golden Age hero, even making the cover of Headline Comics three times.  He spent his time fighting various science fiction threats, criminal enterprises, and communists.

His last appearance was in September of 1946, his creator would die in 1947.  Atomic Man himself would be phased out of the Headline Comics title when the comic transitioned away from superhero comics to crime stories that were written by Captain America co creators and comic book legends Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.

While Atomic Man has faded from memory his legacy is an important one for comic books.  I mentioned before just how many superheroes gained their powers from radiation and Atomic Man was the first hero to accomplish this.

But there is something more to the hero than just a cool origin story.  Atomic Man represented a change that wasn’t just occurring in comic books, but in our society as well.  We had just witnessed the awesome and terrifying power of atomic energy,

and we had so many questions and concerns.  How dangerous was this thing?  What if it got into the wrong hands?  What were the true effects of radiation on the human body?  Will this new idea elevate us to a new Golden Age or plunge us into the apocalypse?

Yes a comic book hero as silly as Atomic Man got quite a few things wrong about radiation and yes, maybe a children’s comic book wasn’t the best place to be asking these sorts of questions.  But whether its audience knew it or not, Atomic Man did ask these questions, putting it at the forefront of some of the most important issues of our time.

Comparing the two greatest father figures in comics

Happy post Father’s Day Monday everyone!

For our international readers, Father’s Day is an American holiday where we celebrate the role and achievements fathers play in all our lives.

Some would say it’s a chance to give dads the recognition they deserve after Mother’s Day (Mother’s Day was a federally recognized holiday before Father’s Day) and some would say that it’s a cynical attempt for the card companies and power tool companies to sell more stuff.

Whatever you believe in it’s important to recognize that fathers have a huge impact on our personal lives and world view and comic books are a medium that is filled with fatherly influence.

Now, being a dad in a comic book can be rather difficult.  It’s even more difficult when you realize that in mainstream American comic books fathers either wind up dead or have to go through hell for their children.

But whether we like it or not, comic book dads fulfill an important role in comic book story telling: they help the main character become the person he/she needs to be in order to become a superhero, and what’s really interesting is that more often than not there are many different ways fathers can teach their biological/surrogate offspring to become a hero.

So today we are going to look at two of the greatest father figures in comic book history: Pa Kent and Uncle Ben.

Pa Kent

Within the Superman mythology Ma Kent is usually the one that’s portrayed as the principal caretaker of Clark considering that Pa Kent winds up dead in quite a few variations of the story.

With that being said, while Ma Kent is usually the one who gets to be the principal caretaker and moral compass for her adopted son, Pa Kent has the honor of being the wise old man that the world’s most powerful being looks up to.

The Kent family has been by Superman’s side since the very beginning.

What I find most impressive is just how capable these two are.  In fact, if it wasn’t for this guy

I’d say they were the most capable parents in all of comics.

They are kind, dedicated, and somehow they took the strongest being on Earth and not only managed to keep his existence a secret for a very long time, but they managed to install a moral compass on kid who was practically immune to all forms of punishment.  After all, a spanking seems kind of pointless when you have a son who can deflect bullets.

The results speak for themselves and Superman grew up to become one of the most selfless beings on the entire planet instead of the ruler and dictator that so many would expect from a being who possesses such power.

One of the things I like about the Kents is how they’ve managed to go through so much and still remain the kindly couple they are today.  They have no trouble hosting aliens who actually look like aliens,

to helping their son learn how to fly.

By the way, the page above is from a series called Superman: American Alien by Max Landis.  It is an amazing series and I cannot recommend it enough.

Whether it’s dealing with the emotional loss of Jonathan Kent

or dealing with yet another alien invasion that decides to take place on their front doorstep.

The Kents have remained one of the most steadfast and loyal families in all of comics.

Uncle Ben

You know him or more specifically you know his line.

Say it, say it now.

There used to be a famous saying in the comic book industry: “Nobody dies in comics except Jason Todd, Bucky Barnes, and Uncle Ben”.

Then 2005 happened.

and it just became “Nobody dies in comics except Uncle Ben.”

Uncle Ben has taken a more relaxed attitude towards instilling heroic ideals in his children.  Granted, it’s mostly because he’s been dead all this time but the results speak for themselves.

In the brief time we get to see Uncle Ben alive in the comics he comes off as a kind, caring, and compassionate person who only wants the best for his adopted son.  In fact, he’s so nice and so good that after he dies Peter is wracked with so much guilt that he decides to dedicate the rest of his life to being one of the most helpful and dedicated superheroes in the Marvel Universe.

Which is saying something considering the amount of pain and suffering Peter has gone through over the years.

So which father figure is better?  Honestly I don’t think it matters.  Both men provide their adopted sons with the necessary moral guidelines that are needed for being a superhero and both are great father figures.

While Father’s Day may be over it is important to recognize the roll that fathers have in our lives and even though we may not live in a comic book universe, they can help all of us become superheroes.